Gong Show gear is a popular hockey apparel site that offers t shirts/sweaters and golf shirts with a of clever phrases. They're latest line could deal with situation going on with one of the OHL's newest ownership groups and franchises, the Flint Firebirds. I can see the T-Shirts being printed now "Flint Firebirds: Nepotism Before Team" or "Flint Firebirds: We Dangle, Snipe and Walk Out" .
The news broke last night, and I will give credit where it is due, even if it is reluctant and with an individual I normally have little time for. OHL Insiders was one of, if not the first to report of the Flint uprising (pauses briefly to set this blog to the background music of Muses Song- Uprising! )
Now we can set the scene with appropriate music! In short, as reported now by a number of credible sources, not limited to Jeff Marek of Sportsnet, John Buccigrossi of ESPN, there was a tremendous show of defiance by the players of the Flint Firebirds after the whole coaching staff, led by John Gruden (not the football coach affectionately nicknamed Chucky) was dismissed after a stirring comeback victory by the Firebirds as they bested Oshawa at home 4-3 in OT. Imagine that, a coach canned after a great comeback.
Good reports are here:
The real issues begins with the owner, a fellow by the name of Rolf Nilsen, evidently a successful businessman as he owns IMS Limited, which is out of Florida. It should be noted that a quick search of Hockey db revealed no hockey stats for Mr Nilsen, unlike other owners like the Hunters and Hatchers of London and Sarnia respectively, who are dyed in the wool hockey men.
Caught in this crossfire is Rolf's son Haken as it was deemed that dad was none too pleased with the amount of ice time young Haken was getting and had made his feelings clear to the coaching staff by firing him when they refused to accede to his request. Now you can really crank up Muse's uprising as the Flint players on mass, in a show of support for the coaches quit and depending on the rumours threw their jerseys down. It should also be acknowledged that young Haken sided with his teammates, and not his father on this, which will not make for a very fun Thanksgving at the Nilsen household.
Imagine the dialogue
Rolf: "Can my turn coat son pass the gravy, or is he going to walk out on dinner?"
Haken: " Sure Dad, but only if you don't fire mom because she didn't let me help out in the kitchen!"
I'm going to admit that when I read this I first thought that the CHLPA has surreptitiously started infiltrating teams from the inside in their plan to topple David Branch and the CHL. Here's is the thing. Nepotism and the hiring of family members in key position that may, or may not be suited for is in every major industry. Hockey is not unique.
We have it here in Niagara. The Burke's are a family business in the truest sense of the word. Bill Burke junior is an assistant coach, while Joey Burke is assistant to the GM Marty Williamson. That said, there is a difference between learning the business from the ground up, and forcing relatives into a situation that they cannot possibly succeed. Joey and Billy, are well suited for their positions. Billy is a former OHL player, astute enough to be the QB at Queens University, and his appointment to assistant coach makes sense. Joey's job duties included gathering statistics and observations during the game, and being immersed in the scouting side of the business, In fact I would strongly argue that we stopped focusing on the last names of these two gentleman a long time ago because they naturally are well suited for their jobs.
Not so in Flint where Rolf felt Hakon deserved a higher profile and more ice time. Hakon, a 7th rd 124th overall pick had dressed in 5 games recording 0 points and was a -3. He had come out of the highly regarded Honeybaked program, as well as the Little Caesars U 16 and U 18 program, where he had modest stats before getting drafted. Hakon is the one I feel for the most. He's 17 years old, and already has a bit of a bulls eye by being the owners son. Now he is thrust in the middle of an almost impossible situation where any decision he makes is lousy. Choose dad, and alienate himself from the team. Choose the team, and he defies his father. It is not unlike the situation in Sudbury where the owners son Connor Burgess eventually left the team and went to university after there were allegations of owner pressure to give Connor more ice time. This type of stuff should be left behind in leagues lower to this, as it is a black eye on what is supposed to be the best developmental league in the world.
As Flint lurches towards their scheduled Friday home game vs Sarnia, the game night promotion of the game is split between "Come to the Game. We May or May Not Have a Team" or "Firebirds Dysfunctional Family Night" They need to clean up this mess, and clean it up fast. There are no good options available here for Rolf Nilson. His best one is probably this:
1. Fall on his sword, apologize to the coaching staff and rehire them. He might also want to distance himself from the hockey operations, by staying in Florida for the foreseeable future.
2. Not rehire the coaching staff, and try to hire another coach. Good luck with that as what coach in their right mind would want to be with his parody of a hockey franchise! Also, the players may not sign off on a new coach, even if it is Scotty Bowman, they're that pissed.
3. Do the Harold Ballard thing and fire Roger Neilson, and then rehire him but only if he wants to wear a paper bag over his head for a grand revelation on the bench. I'd suggest a lucha libre mask instead of a paper bag, but I would also suggest the Harold Ballard school of thought is not one to be adopted.
4. Trade young Haken out of town. He'll still carry the stigma of being that guy, but will out from the ominous shadow of his father.
I will say this. David Branch better intervene , and intervene fast. This is an ownership group new to the OHL but approved by Branch and the board of governors that decide this sort of thing. He needs to be in Flint , Michigan sooner rather than later and he needs to get this thing settled once and for all. This is a story that is being picked up by mainstream hockey media both here in North America and even around the world. They will be watching, and if Flint makes the wrong decision, they may as well pack up shop as they will have no credibility.
Wow! All this happening in Flint, Michigan, the hometown of noted rabble rouser, and defender of the little guy Michael Moore. He loves a good rebellion and could make one hell of a documentary on this
Rolf and Me: Revolt in Flint: a Michael Moore production.
Fix it David Branch, or you name goes on the marquee alongside Rolf Nilson.